Ed. Note: Apologies for the tardiness of this article! As I stated in the Mailbag Questions post, the midweek holiday really threw me for a loop.
Last season, Louisville transfer Hassan Hall was a welcome surprise at running back. He finished the season leading the Yellow Jackets in rushing yards with 521 but had just one touchdown. This season will feature another Louisville transfer at running back, a few other new faces, and the ever-popular Dontae Smith leading the way.
Smith has always been a guy that has shown bursts of explosion. Even when Georgia Tech was running Jahmyr Gibbs, it was always nice to see Smith come in and get off an explosive run. Over the years, he has gradually gotten more carries, and many (myself included) expected him to be the primary starter last season. I’m not sure if it was injury or just guys like Hall playing well, but Smith was used for mostly 7-12 carries a game last season.
Aside from his 5 touchdowns last season, good things just tended to happen when Smith carried the ball. He was Tech’s lone running back with a positive EPA/play last season (0.04 per play). His experience makes him a strong leader among Tech’s running backs. In the Spring game, Smith gained a modest 27 yards on five carries.
After Smith, things are a bit muddled at running back with three guys who could definitely see a lot of playing time depending on how the coaches decide to move forward with the group: Louisville transfer Trey Cooley, Jamie Felix, and true freshman Evan Dickens.
Cooley had a decent season for Louisville last season, gaining 278 yards on 59 carries (4.7 ypc) and two touchdowns. He added another nine catches for about 50 yards and a touchdown through the air. Cooley led all Tech rushers in yards during the Spring game with 59 and averaged 7.4 yards per carry, though that is heavily skewed by a 44-yard run.
Felix played sparingly as a reserve for Tech last season, finishing with 22 carries for 80 yards. There was a lot of promise coming around Felix out of high school, garnering high rankings from ESPN.
Dickens is the one that intrigues me the most. I remember watching the Spring game, and he was the guy that stood out most to me. I feel strongly enough about it that he was one of the breakout players I suggested earlier in the offseason.
As we move into the Fall, the running back competition may be just as intense as the quarterback competition. If I had to nail a pegging order right now, I would probably say that Smith leads the way with Cooley behind him, but I also wouldn’t be surprised to see Felix and especially Dickens garner playing time later this season.
What do you expect out of the running backs this season?